Thursday, March 31, 2016

Step One for Geeks

If you're tuning in, I've been covering two alternate approaches to learning tarot card meetings.  Last time, I laid out an approach for people interested in an intuitive approach.  Today, I'm presenting an approach for people who are pumped up about the structure of trumps, suits, and court cards!

Step One for Geeks

You finally found a deck that meets your specifications: It's legible, cheap and not ugly. Let's get with the reading already, geez!

I'm right there with you, friend.  For you, we are skipping the meditation step.  But that doesn't mean you still don't spend some time with your deck!  Before diving right into definitions, go through the deck and make two decks based on your instinct: is this a friendly card or a mean card?  Don't worry too much about what that means (I'm asking you to tap into your Mystic side here a bit), just toss them suckers into piles based on your gut response.  Do this once a day for a couple days.  Try to pay attention to whether or not some cards "change sides," depending on your mood.

But you won't be spending too much time on this; after all, you have chosen the Geek path (we are legion).  No, you're gonna make a CHART.  With CATEGORIES.  You will also be going to the library and picking out a book on tarot that resonates with you (or take a Closer Look with me!).  For the Geek approach, I like the "Tarot Dictionary and Compendium" by Jana Riley because it offers many different interpretations, but be careful not to be overwhelmed by it.

Here's part of the first chart I ever made as an example.
For your chart, you are going to create four columns, one for each suit.  Your rows will be the numbered cards, Ace through King/Queen.  Each cell in the chart corresponds to a card, and you are going to pick a couple key words (no more than three!) for each card.  Maybe that doesn't seem like a rich enough reading of each card.  Too bad; you picked the Geek path!  I'm kidding; though three key words may not seem like enough, once you start putting cards together in readings, the complexity will emerge.

For trump cards, you'll be putting them in their numbered order and creating a story that helps you remember their meanings; it's not as tidy as a chart, but it gives you a mnemonic to help you memorize them.

As you start to memorize meanings and read simple spreads, you may find that particular cards are really hard for you to remember, or that you are consistently trying to assign them a different meaning.  Don't fight too hard.  It's totally reasonable to flavor some of the card meanings with your own personal interpretation!

I hope that between these two Step Ones, you find an approach that feels manageable but fun.  Whether your a Mystic or a Geek or something else, these strategies should get you started!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Step One for Mystics

I recently started laying out two possible ways to learn card meanings, based on your approach to tarot (are you a Geek or a Mystic?)  In other words, I have two Step Ones! Today, I'll start with an approach for people hoping to connect with the cards in a more intuitive way.

Step One for Mystics

You have this gorgeous new tarot deck, and you are eager to get divinin'! It will be tempting to start assigning literal, one-to-one meanings to each card, but don't worry, there will be a time for that.  Why don't you enjoy this beautiful work of art first?

In order to learn the meanings of the cards, I suggest keeping a small journal (it can be minimal).  Each day, take a card and meditate on it.  Don't try to see literal meaning in the imagery (unless it is particularly powerful); rather, focus on your emotional, visceral response.  As you allow yourself to embrace fully whatever intuition is stimulated by that card, allow some vocabulary to pop up.  What words naturally arise while you are absorbed in the card?  Write down these words in your journal, with a separate entry for each card.

I think you will get the most out of this exercise if you do no more than eight cards a day, but hey, if you can do more, go ahead and get down with your bad self.

After you've gotten through the deck, find a book in your library that jives with your style (or check out my Closer Look series!) to get your one-to-one meanings.  If you've chosen the Mystic path (oh damn that sounds awesome), you might like "A Magical Course in Tarot" by Michele Morgan.  Go through the meanings and mark in your journal any that are drastically different from the ones you intuited.

Ultimately, you will choose one one or two keywords that you associate with each card; you decide whether or not they lean towards the prescribed meaning from the book, or your own initial intuition!

Check back again for Step One for folks who are excited about the structures and systems of tarot (our Geeks!)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Now taking orders!

I am excited to announce that I have finally set up my ordering system for readings!  Please check out Order a Reading for details on how to get your very own Down Home Tarot reading, personalized just for you.  You can ask a specific question, or just get general insight into where you are in your life right now.  There are 8 different spreads of varying complexity, so I'm sure you'll find something you like.

I look forward to sharing a reading with you!

Mystics and Geeks: Two Ways to Start Learning Card Meanings

I did not approach tarot as a way to divine my future or get in touch with my spiritual intuition.  I started researching tarot because I wanted something organized yet creative that gave me a chance to embrace my geeky side: 78 definitions, organized into both Major and Minor Arcana, dictated by suits, and progressing by number.  How delightfully structured!  How symmetrical!  And with pretty pictures, too!

I say this because you will hear different suggestions about how to approach tarot as a beginner, namely: Do you start with memorizing cards, or do you start by trying to get a "feel" for the cards?  I think that this depends entirely on what you are hoping to get out of tarot.  What I have for you are two Step Ones for getting to know your deck, depending on two possible approaches: Geek or Mystic.  Though you probably fall somewhere in between, try seeing which answers resonate with you most.

1) When you picked a deck, you were attracted to:

Mystic:  The feel of the artwork, the way certain specific cards captivated me, a deep stirring in my soul; the process of picking a deck is part of the experience itself
Geek: The general aesthetic, consistency in style, easily discernible suits and numbers; let's just pick a deck already!

2) You wanted to try tarot because:

Mystic: I wanted to try some new ways of getting in touch with my spiritual side, or I am interested in the occult and supernatural in a literal way, and I want to impress my friends
Geek: I'm interested in the occult in a historical and sociological way, I like systems, it's cooler than Pokeman, and I want to impress my friends

3) When you give or receive a really effective tarot reading, you feel:

Mystic: inspired by my connection to the universe through a literal supernatural force, or that the experience can't be explained with empirical fact
Geek: inspired by my connection to the universe through a shared need for storytelling and a common human mythos, or that coincidences can be just as important as fact if they lead to growth

When I got my Universal Rider-Waite, I was aaaaaall Geek, my friend.  As my confidence has grown and I collect more unique or abstract decks, I include a little Mystic in my approach, too.  I don't see either approach as better or more legitimate; they're just two different paths.  Over the next week or so, I'll present you these two different directions.  Be sure to check back!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Pips vs. Pictures: A Follow-Up

I posted earlier today about choosing between pictorial Minor Arcana versus those with just pips.  I'm sharing an example here to make that distinction more clear.

To the right, you see the six of pentacles from a Marseilles-inspired deck (though it is likely that tarot originated in Italy, the French deck is considered one of the oldest available examples of tarot art).  If you were to compare it to a four of pentacles, it wouldn't offer much contrast.  As such, it's going to be much harder to remember the distinct meanings for each Minor Arcana.  They will be much more likely to blur together in your mind.

Below, you see the six of pentacles from the Fenestra deck, a contemporary deck based on Rider-Waite symbology.  You can see that it is fully illustrated, with characters interacting in an environment.  The character is giving coins to the children in the picture; it's so much easier to remember the meaning of generosity associated with this card!

I hope that makes the distinction more clear, and that you are better informed for choosing your deck!

Selecting a Deck

I often see folks say that you really have to handle your deck before you buy it, especially if it's your first deck.

Here's what I think.  If people can meet their spouses online, you can buy a deck of tarot cards online.

If you have access to a store, or a place where you can see the whole deck before you buy it, that can be a lot of fun!  Truth is, I live in a rural area and don't have access to those kind of options, so buying a deck online was more practical for me.  You can also do a lot of research on decks before ordering them, with some websites showcasing hundreds of decks.

I only have a couple general suggestions for people planning to use cards for reading (i.e. as opposed to getting them solely as a work of art).  In order for those suggestions to make sense, though, it helps to know how a typical tarot deck is organized.

The Major Arcana, or trump cards, are numbered zero through twenty one.  They represent a progression through stages of life, or typical events and people that most of us encounter. Their meanings are derived from a unique character or item portrayed, like the Star, the Hermit, Death, the Tower, or the Lovers.  They take on special prominence in spreads, and in the original game-playing use of tarot, they outranked number cards (think of the expression, "The issue is trumped by extenuating circumstances.")

The Minor Arcana are made up of four suits: cups, pentacles, wands, and swords.  These are numbered similarly to traditional playing cards, ace through ten and then the court cards.  As in playing cards, the king ranks highest, with the queen second highest (though I idiosyncratically read queens as higher).  Next in line is the knight, or in some cases, the prince.  Finally, the page, or sometimes princess, is the lowest ranking court card.

Now, the Major Arcana are almost always illustrated, and court cards often have at least something pictorial. But the numbered Minor Arcana sometimes only have pips, or the corresponding number of symbols.  In fact, the original tarot decks probably had pips instead of pictures for the Minor Arcana.  This means that they look more like traditional playing cards.

So what does this mean for you?  Well, it means that a deck listed as having "illustrated Minor Arcana" will have unique pictures on each card that will help you associate it with a distinct meaning.  If, instead, the Minor Arcana are listed as illustrated with pips, it means that there will just be the suit symbols.  These can still be beautiful decks, but they are much harder if you are just learning.  Many readers who use pip cards incorporate numerology in order to read these cards; that is an intriguing approach, for sure, but I like to keep it relatively simple.

This leads me to my first suggestion: Get illustrated Minor Arcana!  The very first deck I bought only had pips, and trying to memorize meanings was frustrating and arbitrary.  When I got my Rider-Waite deck, I was suddenly able to connect the card meanings to what I was seeing.  Learning tarot became much more rewarding.

A few other suggestions are simple: check online reviews if you can, seeing if anybody says anything about the paper quality and sturdiness.  When you get your cards, check for the Little White Book (LWB) that comes with almost every deck; this usually entails a card-by-card explanation and a few suggested spreads.  The quality of LWBs varies greatly, with some being useful and creative, and others confusing and poorly written.  Ultimately, I was able to come up with a better sense of card meanings by checking out books from the public library.

Keep these things in mind as you are buying and receiving your deck, but ultimately, don't overthink it.  It's always great to find that deck that sets your heart on fire, but you can also spend a lot of time searching for the Perfect Deck without ever getting your hands on some actual cards.  Get illustrated Minor Arcana, check your local library for tarot books, and have fun!

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Hello, and welcome to Down Home Tarot!

My plan for this blog is as follows:

  • one or two card posts a week, where I take a card and explore its meaning in depth (A Closer Look)
  • one spread post a week, where I record an actual spread and its meaning (Reading a Spread)
  • one miscellaneous post a week, where I address a topic related to tarot

Eventually, I'd like enough of a community that I can start answering questions about tarot directly, and offering readings.  Wouldn't you like to be a part of that community?!